The emergence of Kyle Clifford during his rookie season in the NHL two years ago is partly what allowed the Kings to trade Wayne Simmonds to Philadelphia in June 2011. It’s not like they’re mirror images of each other – one plays the right side, the other the left – but simply put, each guy added toughness to the third line and looked to be ready for about 10-15 goals a year.
Clifford, a second round pick at the 2009 NHL Draft, amazed nearly everybody in the Kings organization from the moment he stepped onto the ice at their practice facility for the first time. That Fall, former Kings assistant coach Mark Hardy named him the MVP of Rookie Camp at the ripe old age of 18. While Brayden Schenn was receiving most of the media attention at the time, Hardy told MayorsManor – “Cliffy played hard every shift, showed tons of grit and looked like a true power forward. When he starts to balance all of those traits out a little bit he’ll become the player we were hoping for when we drafted him.”
Thus, the comparisons to players like Rick Tocchet have been around every since.
There were times late last year where Clifford appeared to be over-matched and maybe even tired as the schedule wore on. However, coach Darryl Sutter must not have agreed because he had him play in 81 of the 82 games. Statistically speaking, there wasn’t much of a sophomore slump either. His totals were pretty similar the second time around, 12 points (five goals, seven assists) compared to 14 (seven goals, seven assists) the year prior. Additionally, his plus-minus improved from minus-10 as a rookie to minus-5 last season.
Unfortunately, a concussion during the Kings first round series vs. Vancouver drastically limited his time during the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Championship. Clifford appeared in just three playoff games and didn’t record any points. That’s a far cry from the year prior, where he lead the team in points (three goals, two assists) vs. the San Jose Sharks and easily could have been labeled the Kings best player in the post-season.
Which brings us to Friday night’s charity game.
Minutes into the opening period, Clifford scored the best looking goal of the night and everybody took notice. Exhibition game or not, it was almost as if he was screaming ‘I’m back!’
Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi was impressed by the move and noted that 6-foot-2 left wing was going hard all game.
“Clifford had a great goal, driving to the net. I think he was MVP for sure,” Kings center Jarret Stoll told us post game. “Well, the first two periods at least.”
He then turned to Clifford, who was two stalls down and asked, “Did you do anything in the third?”
“No,” came the sheepish reply.
“Yeah, he was quiet in the third,” Stoll added, which prompted him to give the MVP talk a little more thought.
“The goalies were good, eh?” he remarked next. “(Jonas) Hiller was pretty good. I’ll give it to Hiller.”
Trevor Lewis, sitting between Stoll and Clifford, didn’t have much to add to the conversation. His only comment on the night – “I didn’t fall!” – was a reference to a quote he gave us a few days ago after practice, where his stated goal of the game was to, well, not fall down.
So it was up to Clifford to add a little spice to things.
On the possibility of joining twitter soon, he said “Nobody cares what I had to say.”
Regarding his goal, Clifford added – “No real thoughts. I just went to the net hard.”
How about the physical play in the game, was that fun? “I think guys were just having fun out there and putting on a show for the fans.”
Clifford closed with an overall impression of the night – “We’ve been playing 3-on-3 (in the NHLPA skates). So, anytime you’re playing hockey like tonight it feels good – no matter what it is, beer leagues or the NHL Stanley Cup Finals. It’s good.”
So back to the MVP talk…and let the chirping begin.
Lewis – “Not Matt Moulson, He had a tough game. He was a minus-6 I think.”
Davis Drewiske – “Definitely not me. Zero points and a minus-6 or 7.”
In a move you wouldn’t see during a real NHL game, Fraser then called over the Anaheim Ducks winger to discuss the stats.
‘Hey Bobbo, what was your plus-minus today? We need confirmation on this.’
“Minus-9 and we’re not counting the empty netter at the end,” joked Ryan.
We’re going with Clifford.
For other post-game comments and pictures from the game, see the related articles linked down below.